THE SELL: Safari northern style
Ask an Alaskan what the most underrated national park in the state is and he'll likely answer Lake Clark, just an hour's flight west of Anchorage. The four-million-acre park's active volcanoes, abundant salmon, healthy brown bear population, and frothing rivers and waterfalls make it the perfect spot for folks who want to hunker down in a lodge to fish or just plain gawk at the mind-blowing scenery. Tack on an hourlong flight from Anchorage to KatmaiNational Park, home to over 1,000 brown bears (one of the world's largest protected populations), and your eyes will be popping out of their sockets.
OUTFITTED: Called the "Cadillac of bear trips," Katmai Coastal Bear Tours' Alaska-centric trip is the voyage of choice for BBC, Discovery Channel, and Imax cameramen who want four days of intense bear interaction. From mid-June to late August, guests fly from Kodiak to the Shelikof Strait to board a converted tugboat equipped with simple bunk rooms. You'll cruise 50 to 60 miles along the Katmai coast for an average of 20 bear sightings per day. This trip isn't for the fainthearted; you'll land on the beach and get alarmingly close to the big guys ($3,750, flight from Kodiak included; katmaibears.com).
DIY: Lake Clark National Park's Redoubt Mountain Lodge is a surprisingly easy way to immerse yourself in wildest Alaska for a weekend. An hourlong flight from Anchorage's Lake Hood drops you at the lodge, on nine-mile-long Crescent Lake, which sits at the base of active, 10,197-foot Redoubt Volcano. Spend your days casting for silver or sockeye salmon, staring down a 600-pound brown bear, or enjoying a glass of wine from a hot tub that overlooks the lake. As appealing as the surroundings: chef and co-manager Heather Richards's cooking, guide Andrew Sells's encyclopedic knowledge of fishing, and your own cozy cabin ($1,245 for one-night stay, $1,845 for two, including round-trip bush flight with Rust's Flying Service and food; redoubtlodge.com).
WILD CARD: Twitchers go nuts for Wilderness Birding Adventures' eight-day Adak Trip, in the Aleutian Islands, the volcanic arm that extends west into the Bering Sea from Katmai National Park. The reason: You're technically in North America, but can still tick numerous vagrants from Asia that blow off-courselike the whooper swan, the falcated duck, and the black-tailed godwitoff your life list. Your unconventional digs: converted condos on a decommissioned World War II military base ($4,400; wildernessbirding.com).